The first time that you begin moving in an unconventional direction is the hardest beginning. You don’t yet have confidence in yourself. There is no roadmap to guide you. It can seem overwhelming. Once you accomplish something and know loads of people doing similar things to you, you wonder what all the fuss was about. You realise that you are not alone, you are not the only mad one. There are mad folk all around you!
Think back to your nerves on your first day at junior school compared to your confident sense of belonging by the end of term. It’s true for me today now that I know many people who have cycled across continents or written and published books. It’s not as hard as we thought it would be. But before you join the gang it can feel intimidating, exclusive, not for you.
Before the first beginning, we need heroes. Heroes to inspire us, cajole us, and get us so excited and certain that this is the path we want to take, that we are able to overcome our nerves and doubt and ignorance and get going.
Back when I was dreaming of my first adventure, I didn’t know anyone who had done adventures themselves. I had nobody who could help and encourage me. I wish I could have met someone who could say to me, “Hey, I did that. It wasn’t too hard.” That would have been invaluable.
Instead I turned to books, jammed full of timeless heroes. I read adventure books for vicarious thrills – all those great explorers in ecstasies of masochistic suffering, just like I wanted. I was reassured that other people felt like me. It’s a lovely, warm, exciting feeling – belonging without paying your dues. So lovely, in fact, that there’s a tendency not to actually bother taking any more steps. And this is when you need the hero who makes you squirm, who tells it to you straight and uncomfortable.
Enter Mark Twight [shortened slightly]:
What’s your problem? I think I know. You see it in the mirror every morning: temptation and doubt hip to hip inside your head. You know it’s not supposed to be like this.
Aren’t you sick of being tempted by an alternative lifestyle, but bound by chains of your own choosing? Of the gnawing doubt that the college graduate, path of least resistance is the right way for you – for ever? Each weekend you prepare for the two weeks [holiday] each summer when you wake up each day and really ride, or really climb? You wish it could go on forever. But a wish is all it will ever be.
Because… Monday morning is harsh. You wear the hangover of your weekend rush under a strict and proper suit and tie. On Monday you eat frozen food and live the homogenized city experience. But Sunday you thought about cutting your hair very short. You wanted a little more volume.
Tuesday you look at the face in the mirror again. It stares back, accusing. How can you get by on that one weekly dose? Do you have the courage to live with the integrity that stabs deep?
The life you want to live has no recipe. Following the recipe got you here in the first place: Mix one high school diploma with an undergrad degree and a college sweetheart. With a whisk blend two cars, a poorly built house in a cul de sac, and fifty hours a week working for a board that doesn’t give a shit about you. Reproduce once. Then again. Place all ingredients in a rut, or a grave. One is a bit longer than the other. Bake thoroughly until the resulting life is set. Rigid. With no way out. Serve and enjoy.
But there is a way out. Live the lifestyle instead of paying lip service to the lifestyle. Live with commitment. Tell the truth. First, to yourself. Say it until it hurts. You live in the land of denial – and they say the view is pretty as long as you remain asleep.
Well it’s time to WAKE THE FUCK UP!
So do it. Wake up. When you drink the coffee tomorrow, take it black and notice it. Feel the caffeine surge through you. Don’t take it for granted. Use it for something. Say “no” more often. As long as you have a safety net you act without commitment. You’ll go back to your old habits once you meet a little resistance. You need the samurai’s desperateness and his insanity.
Burn the bridge. Nuke the foundation. Back yourself up against a wall. Cut yourself off so there is no going back. Once you’re committed the truth will come out.
Heroes, then, can make stuff happen for you. But I caution against measuring your own success against their success. Think carefully and realistically about how you define success. Don’t measure success against your peers’ success either. Just because you’re going forwards doesn’t mean I’m going backwards.
I am an adventurer. If I measure my adventures against Neil Armstrong blasting to the moon, then I am a total flop.
I am an author. If I measure my sales against Bear Grylls’ sales, then I’m a failure too.
If you are an entrepreneur, best to not measure your bank balance against Richard Branson’s.
Sane painters or musicians do not compare themselves to Da Vinci or Mozart. Nor should we.
Measure yourself instead against an earlier you, and against the earlier you’s hopes and dreams.
I recently found my first ever Amazon listing, when I’d just self-published my first book. The cover photo had clearly been taken by me: the camera flash glared off the cover and you can see the pale blue bedroom carpet around the book. I laughed out loud at my incompetence when I saw it (have a laugh here).
But back then I was thrilled: I had written a book! I had published a book! It was on Amazon: people may buy it. They might even read it! That was success. I hope that in another few years’ time I shall have done and created things that make me more proud and satisfied than the things I am proud of today. That too will be success.
Today, I am doing what I love, on my own terms. That feels like success. (Be sure not to muddle success with the even-more elusive ‘contentment’!)
But even once you have escaped towards the life of your choice – for me one revolving around adventure, independence and writing – you have not ‘arrived’. You never arrive. The horizon always moves. That is really, really important to remember.
A couple of years ago, my ‘career’ was pootling along quite nicely: certainly beyond my dreams when I began my first adventure. I was doing enough big adventures to both feed the rat (the primal urge to do crazy stuff and test the limits) and pay the bills. I was writing books, giving talks, and paying for my life doing stuff I enjoyed.
There is a pretty simple formula to making a career as an adventurer:
Do a massive adventure. Make sure people find out about it. Write / Speak about it well. Get Money. Repeat.
But then I broke the cycle.
I stopped going on massive adventures. I started doing microadventures.
Instead of cycling round the world I walked round the M25.
This felt like a big risk, professionally.
But I had come to believe that you don’t actually need to travel to the ends of the earth to live adventurously. I had seen that although many people love adventures, few actually have them in their life. I wanted to change that.
So I began cycling round suburbia, sleeping on hills, swimming in rivers, and banging the microadventure drum. It was a gamble. But I followed a hunch in my gut and I was emboldened to do so knowing that, if it didn’t work out then I could just go back to what I was doing before. Few decisions are really irreversible. We should try to take more decisions lightly.
And so far, the microadventure stuff is going really well. To my simultaneous irritation and delight, my book about arsing around close to home is selling far better than my books about slogging my way to the ends of the earth! It’s a small success that’s come from being willing to experiment, to pivot and change tack where necessary, and to lead rather than follow.
The popularity of microadventures, I think, is partly because the concept transfers to whatever it might be you are dreaming of doing in life. It’s not just about jumping in rivers.
The strongest idea in the book is “5 to 9 thinking”. (I suspect, by the way, that it is no coincidence that this idea is also the simplest one…)
Our 9 to 5 lives, convention dictates, impose a lot of restrictions on us. It prevents us living as adventurously as we might like. But what if you turn that thinking on its head? Instead of being limited by the 9 to 5, why aren’t more people liberated by their 5 to 9?
When you leave work at 5pm, you have 16 hours of glorious freedom before you need to be back at your desk again. What adventures could you have in that time?
Here’s an idea. Jump on a train out of town. Climb a hill. Watch the sunset. Sleep on the hill, under the moon and the stars. Wake at sunrise, run back down the hill, jump in a river, then back on the train and back to the office by 9am.
What an opportunity! What an escape! A genuine burst of adventure in the middle of the working week.
Try to see the opportunities everywhere, not the constraints. Look at the possibilities not the barriers.
Finally, here’s my call to arms: go and jump in a river. If you don’t have a river, try a cold shower.
How will this help your own plans?
Daunting to consider.
The first step is the hardest. “Don’t do this!” cries your rational mind!
But you know you must leap.
In moments, the shock passes and you start to get used to it.
Once it’s done – you realise it wasn’t too bad after all. In fact you feel great and are delighted to have done it.
So, go for it.
Jump into your river.
Thank you to the many people who have kindly “bought me a coffee” for just £2.50 as encouragement to keep this blog going.
“Yes, I too would like to donate a couple of pounds to this site..!”